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Travel Adviser

Swift screening saves time

Biz travelers test airport screening program

By Meriah Doty

Minneapolis (Minnesota)
Los Angeles (California)
Transportation Security Administration

(CNN) -- Some business travelers have it easy and breezy at the airports this summer.

A select group of frequent flyers participating in the Registered Traveler pilot program is moving swiftly through airports in their own security lane.

"The government is getting biometric identification and business travelers are getting through airports faster -- it's a win-win situation," said Eva Leonard, editor-in-chief of Business Traveller.

Expanding the program beyond just business fliers seems to be the next logical move, according to Leonard. But the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), though optimistic, has made no promises.

So far the program, now underway at LAX and MSP (Los Angeles and Minneapolis airports), appears to be running smoothly, Leonard said.

"When the government elicits participation of people they're creating programs for, it works. For consumers, that's important," Leonard said of the Registered Traveler program. "It might set a standard for government programs to follow."

She said TSA's other airport-screening program, CAPPS II, is not as user-friendly.

The Registered Traveler program issues "smart cards" to participants, containing biometric identity information such as a fingerprint or an iris scan.

Volunteers also submit their name, address, phone number and date of birth -- a trade-off they are happy to make for shorter lines and quicker boarding, according to Leonard.

Participants continue to go through primary screening but typically bypass random secondary checks before boarding flights.

"We estimate it takes three to five minutes for that secondary screening," TSA spokesperson Amy Von Walter said. "We're hopeful that will help reduce the lines overall."

And the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Von Walter.

The biometric technology lets TSA know more about participants, Von Walter said. "That allows our screeners to better focus their resources and efforts."

Right now Registered Traveler members enjoy the benefits of the pilot program at no cost. But Von Walter said TSA intends to have users pay for a portion of the program.

Leonard said, "I would hope the cost wouldn't put it out of the realm to the person who's not a frequent traveler."

Von Walter made it clear any decisions on allowing more people to register are pending the results of the pilot program.

But she said, "We're eagerly awaiting results."

Private information, safeguards in place

Concern about civil liberties has been raised over the private information TSA obtains through the program, Leonard says, but she claimed the complaints aren't coming from the business travelers.

"I think it's more of a question of practicality than being suspicious of the government," she said of the volunteers.

Von Walter explained safeguards are in place to ensure no other government organization will have access to the stored information.

"Only a limited amount of TSA employees and contractors have access to that database," she said, noting the TSA is governed by the Privacy Act. And those with access are not able to provide information to third parties, as a rule, she said.

The program was launched in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in early July. Los Angeles International Airport started the program on July 23 and George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, Texas; Boston Logan International Airport in Massachusetts; and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will follow.

The pilot is scheduled to last about 90 days per airport.

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